Web Feature Posted August 5, 2016
Doris Heritage: A World-Class Trailblazer
Doris Brown Heritage ’64 was a two-time Olympian, five-time world champion, and SPU faculty member and cross-country coach for more than 30 years.
By Hope McPherson | Photo by Daniel Sheehan
Editor’s note: This story was first published in the Autumn 2007 Response.
Falcon female athletes jostle for position, points, and wins as readily as do male athletes, but it wasn’t always so. Today’s SPU women athletes, whether they know it or not, can thank a petite blonde, Doris Brown Heritage ’64, in part for their success.
“I think Doris is inspirational not only as a runner, and not only because she’s one of the main reasons I’m able to do college athletics,” says Jessica Pixler, a Seattle Pacific University sophomore who’s already one of the top distance runners in the country. “She’s one of the mothers of women’s running.”
A charter member in SPU’s “Legends Hall of Fame,” Heritage began her running career in the 1960s — when schools rarely allowed women to compete. “During my school years, there were very few races for women,” Heritage says about her years as a Seattle Pacific student. “Whitworth College let me run in their dual meets with SPU. If the race was a mile, I could run a half-mile of it. I was in some boys’ high school cross country races.”
But that would change. In 1960, she teamed up with Seattle Pacific’s track and field coach, Ken Foreman. With him, Heritage gained an advocate who helped her blast through the wall that prevented women athletes from reaching their full potential. By the time Congress passed Title IX in 1972 — leveling the proverbial playing field of women’s high school and college athletics — Heritage had been running competitively for 12 years. Indeed, highlighting the oddities of the time, she had been named Seattle’s 1971 “Man of the Year in Sports.”
Doris Heritage | Photo by Dan Sheehan
During her competitive prime, Heritage garnered an impressive set of records: at 330 yards, 880 yards, 800 meters, 1500 meters, one mile, 3000 meters, and two miles. She needed every finger on her left hand to count her national cross country championships: five. Likewise, she needed every finger on her right hand to count her world championships: five. Heritage went to both the Tokyo Olympics and the Munich Olympics. Finally, showing times were indeed changing, she was named “Washington’s Woman of the Year” by the Washington State Legislature in 1976.
Heritage was named to the U.S.A. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1990; she became the second-ever female named to the United States Track Coaches Hall of Fame in 1999; and in 2002, she was named to the National Distance Hall of Fame. “Her commitment to excellence was palpable,” wrote Foreman in The Fragile Champion: Doris Brown Who Always Ran the Extra Mile. The two of them would work together for decades, first as coach and athlete, then as colleagues after Heritage became a coach and professor of physical education at SPU.
Finally, in 2002, Heritage left the classroom after 33 years; she remains SPU’s head cross country coach and assistant coach of track and field. Through the decades, she’s made Falcon cross country runners formidable foes in NCAA Division II. Named conference coach of the year seven times, she’s coached 10 of her cross country teams to the top 10 at national meets. In 1996, the women’s cross country team became the West Region women’s champion. SPU has won the conference women’s championships seven of the last 12 years, and she guided the men’s team to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference title in 2004. Twenty of her runners have been named All-Americans, including two national champions.
Her middle-distance and distance runners on the track and field teams also give the Falcon track team a national reputation for excellence. Seven women have won AIAW and NCAA titles from 800 meters to 10,000 meters. And, en toto, Falcon men and women runners have scored at nationals 38 times in the last 28 years.
How does she do it? “Doris is an incredibly inspiring Christian woman,” says Tom Box, athletic director at SPU. ”She’s a living legend at Seattle Pacific, and a revered ‘star’ in the running world. She and Ken Forman put Seattle Pacific on the map in terms of athletics and helped blaze a trail for women in sport.” Adds Heritage simply: “Dr. Foreman was very good about excellence and confidence and preparation. We trained to be the best.”
Watch Doris Brown Heritage become the first woman to run a sub 5-minute mile.